Can Sony’s ‘Spider-Man’ Survive Without Disney?

With great intellectual property comes great responsibility.
September 6, 2019
7 mins read

At this point, only people living under a rock haven’t heard about Disney and Sony’s dispute over the rights to the character of Spider-Man. Now that it seems Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has left the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans are concerned for the web-slinger’s onscreen future. Sony still seems dead set on creating their own universe of Spider-Man-centric movies. Given their history, their recent work, the story that’s being told and the MCU’s role, I think Sony is doomed to fail.

While Spider-Man is a Marvel Comics character, many Marvel properties were scattered around different film companies. Disney owns the majority of Marvel, which now includes the “X-Men” franchise that they got when they acquired 20th Century Fox.

But Spider-Man has remained a property of Sony Entertainment since the early days of Sam Raimi’s film trilogy in the early 2000s. After the unsuccessful “Amazing Spider-Man” reboot series, Sony and Marvel struck a deal to allow the companies to essentially share the character.

It was this deal that allowed Tom Holland to don the signature red-and-blue suit in a total of five MCU movies, making appearances in “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” while striking out (mostly) on his own in both “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Meanwhile, Sony continued to experiment with different variations of the Spider-Man property and its surrounding characters, culminating in both “Venom” and the surprise mega-hit “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” in 2018.

After the success of “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Disney was not content with the amount of money they were making off these films and sought to restructure their deal in order to make more. Sony obviously has no interest in giving them any more money than they are already making, so not only is Spider-Man’s place in the MCU gone, but Kevin Feige, producer of both “Homecoming” and “Far From Home,” won’t be returning either.

With Sony deciding to continue on with Tom Holland and without the rest of the MCU, the company is in a pretty tight spot when it comes to everyone’s favorite wall-crawler.

First and foremost, Sony does not have the greatest history of making Spider-Man films. The original Raimi trilogy was very good and ultimately helped to pave the way for the superhero film landscape as it exists today. However, those still are very flawed films, being somewhat campy and over-the-top.

For the most part, people don’t even like “Spider-Man 3,” meaning that only two-thirds of the series that is fondly remembered is even still considered watchable. The “Amazing Spider-Man” movies, on the other hand, not so much. These films tried to reinvent the character but strayed far away from the heart of the hero, ending up failing in the same way that “Spider-Man 3” had just a few years prior.

Beyond these past films, Sony’s recent Spider-Man and Spider-Man-adjacent films had very different critical receptions. “Venom,” which came out in October 2018, is not very good. Personally, I enjoy watching it as one those so-bad-it’s-good kind of films but I definitely don’t think it really stands up to the better movies out there.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” on the other hand, is an amazing film that received a lot of acclaim for its story, characters, world-building and stellar animation. So from this, it seems fair to conclude that Sony has a 50/50 chance of making another good Spider-Man movie. But the quality of Sony’s superhero film library isn’t what’s ultimately going to sink these films.

The most important aspect here is the story. Can Sony tell a good and satisfying story with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man? The answer is ultimately no. Unless they start completely from scratch ignoring everything “Homecoming” and “Far From Home” has set up, they can’t really create a good story because this version of Spider-Man is irreversibly linked to the MCU. Even if they started over, the story wouldn’t be satisfying because it leaves the tale the MCU was telling on a cliffhanger.

If they just made another film without mentioning the Avengers — specifically Iron Man —  it wouldn’t make any sense. Why would Spider-Man just stop talking about or even mention the man who was his mentor and father figure in prior films? Since “Far From Home” ended on such a huge blow to the character, to ignore that and start over would really anger a lot of fans who wanted to see the conclusion of this setup.

Basically, it doesn’t matter how Sony tries to make this film on their own, they can’t win. Everything from the story that has already been set up to the way it affects characters stacks the odds against them. Sony can make “Into the Spider-Verse” a good film because the movie is its own creation; it doesn’t connect to other films or characters, it exists on its own. With these new Spider-Man films, Sony doesn’t have that luxury and now they’re in a place where they don’t have much hope.

Honestly, I also don’t have much hope for these films. Perhaps Sony can redeem the Venom franchise or make a great “Spider-Verse” sequel, but I don’t think it can make a good Spider-Man movie at this point. If Sony and Disney can’t come to an agreement, it might be the beginning of the end for the web-slinger, which would be a very sad day for Spider-Man and MCU fans alike.

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